EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of occasional profiles of individuals working on the two new reactors at Plant Vogtle for Southern Nuclear, which are under construction and three years away from starting operations.
As a girl in Puerto Rico, where power is generated mostly with diesel, Debi Pagan-Diaz didn’t know about nuclear power.
What she did know was she had insatiable curiosity.
“I wanted to be able to understand how things work, to be able to get my hands dirty in the process,” she said.
So she studied mechanical engineering there.
She also knew nothing about Southern Co. until being recruited by an acquaintance. She took a job at Plant Hatch, a nuclear plant near Baxley, Ga., in 2009.
“Working at Hatch is where I started getting that passion for our industry,” Pagan-Diaz said.
It wasn’t her first job, though. During college, she was a co-op student working in a pharmaceutical factory. Compared with that, the nuclear industry is light-years ahead in safety protocols, she said.
“One of the things that was a big difference for me was all the procedures and the guidance that we have,” she said. “It’s not, ‘Just perform the task; figure it out,’ It’s, ‘Make sure that you use the process that we already have in place; make sure that if you have an event that happens to you, share it with the whole industry.’ That doesn’t happen in other types of industry, especially pharmaceuticals that I’m familiar with.”
Coming to work every day is easy knowing you’re part of a team, both at the plant and in the nuclear industry at large, Pagan-Diaz said. It results in a healthy competition because successes are shared, instead of a place where failures are swept under the rug, she said.
“Debi is the ultimate team player,” said Engineering Director John G. Aufdenkampe Jr.
At Plant Hatch, she found the people there became her surrogate family because her island home was so far way. That convinced her to take that same approach when she transferred to Vogtle.
“She has provided significant leadership, establishing the programs necessary to operate and maintain
the station,” Aufdenkampe said.
Now she’s part of Southern Co.’s recruiting team, going back to Puerto Rico and successfully recruiting two graduates so far from her alma mater.
The curiosity that led her to become an engineer in the first place ultimately led her to Vogtle. She was learning plenty at Hatch by doing, but she also recognized that the veteran engineers who helped build the plant had an edge because they understood how it worked in a more intimate way.
“At Hatch, I interacted with so many people that when we had challenges in the field, they would say, ‘I remember when we were building this plant, they did this and modified that.’ I always thought that I wanted to be one of those people,” Pagan-Diaz said, adding that it’s also easier to make refinements in a new plant than in one that’s already running.
“So, when the chance came to come to (Vogtle Units) 3 and 4, I jumped at it.”